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12 Investigative Techniques to Prove Misconduct at Work

Proving misconduct in the workplace is not an easy task. As an investigator, everything will be thrown in your way to make sure you fail. Don’t relent in seeking justice and reparation for an employee that has been maltreated at the workplace. Sometimes the tables could be turned against an employer by an employee seeking to take advantage of the company for monetary gains.

Whether you’re working for the employee or the employer, there are techniques you can use to successfully collect evidence to support or disprove a workplace misconduct claim. The following are 12 investigative techniques to prove misconduct at work:

1. Work from a Plan

Before performing a workplace investigation on misconduct, develop a plan. You need to clearly establish the subject of investigation, who will investigate, who is to be interviewed, and the type of evidence to be collected. Besides, identify and clearly define the purpose of the investigation. Why you are conducting it in the first place? What is the scope of the investigation? If you set out without a plan, why you are conducting the investigation, chances are you’ll get off track and fail.

2. Be Objective

Objectivity is at the core of a successful workplace misconduct investigation. Just because an employee has a history of lodging complaints doesn’t mean you should be biased against them. Even if this is the 11th time such an employee is coming to you with a complaint, listen to them as though it were the first time they’re lodging a complaint. Avoid forming opinions or becoming jaded until an investigation is wrapped up.

Don’t make assumptions about the misconduct at work unless you have evidence and facts to back them up. Beware of possible conflicts of interest when settling on an investigator. In most cases, an HR person will likely not be objective since they may be too invested in the matter under investigation.

3. Gather Evidence before Interviewing Witness

When interviewing witnesses, there’s bound to be accusations and counter-accusations about the misconduct at work. The he-said-she-said back-and-forth could frustrate even the most patient investigator. Before you call a witness for questioning, gather credible evidence that could validate or invalidate a complaint. For instance, a colleague could have sent an email message to the complainant with sexually inappropriate comments. That email could be the tie-breaker in validating or invalidating the complaint.

4. Schedule Interviews

Schedule interviews based on what order will serve your investigations best. In some cases, you might want to hold off interviewing some witnesses to avoid feeding the rumour mill. Always ask yourself: how will interviewing so and so first help the case? In most cases, it’s wise to confront a culprit after you’ve gathered enough evidence to prove your case.

5. Ask Open-ended Questions

Draft your questions before a witness walks into the interviewing room. Asking open-ended questions helps you draw more information from witnesses. To confront lying witnesses, you need to have excellent interviewing skills. Have the questions arranged in such a way that if a witness lies in one question, subsequent ones will catch them. As much as possible, ask questions that encourage an interviewee to share critical information to support your investigations.

6. Don’t Be Aggressive

A forced confession may not be admissible. If it’s proved you used aggressive tactics to coerce information from a witness, the confession you extract will not be helpful to the case. In some cases, it can even turn against you as proof of your hostility. For instance, Joaquin Robles was awarded $7.5 million when jurors concluded he was held in a backroom against his will and threatened with arrest had he refused to confess.

Although the award was later reduced to $700,000 after appeal, it went to show the dangers of using aggressive tactics to coerce a confession. It’s always better to err on the side of caution than try to force a confession from a witness.

7. Stick to the Facts

As an investigator, your role is that of a fact-finder. Stick to the facts and let all your questions seek to establish where the truth lies. If you want to get straightforward answers, ask straightforward questions about the misconduct at work.

8. Be and Appear Fair

A lot of litigation can be avoided where there’s a perception of fairness. Always show respect and treat your witnesses fairly. The location of interviews is a major consideration since witnesses need to be assured of utmost privacy and confidentiality. For instance, holding an interview on the floor of a warehouse with other employees in full view won’t bear much fruit.

Most people are hesitant to share information where their privacy and confidentiality is not assured. They are also likely to avoid reporting the misconduct at work in the future.

9. Determine the Credibility of a Witness

A confession is as credible as the person giving it. In determining the credibility of a witness, especially where there are conflicting versions of misconduct, establish whether a witness is plausible. Is their rendition of the facts believable? What about their demeanour? Do they look like they are telling the truth, or is something off about them?

The other thing you need to look at to establish their credibility is what their motive is. What would they gain by lying? You should also scrutinize their past record for possible incidences of misconduct. Lastly, make sure the witnesses or documents can support their version of what really happened.

10. Be Expedient and Thorough

You’re likely to get to the heart of the matter by investigating quickly and thoroughly. Even if you have other matters making demands on your time, make time to see the investigations concluded as soon as possible. An employee would be tempted to think you’re not taking their claims seriously if you overstretch an investigation.

Besides, over time, it gets more difficult to get witnesses to divulge information and to collect evidence. You also run the risk of encouraging misconduct to continue. In some cases, critical documented evidence could disappear without a trace. Always investigate as quickly as possible and cover every conceivable ground.

11. Assure Confidentiality

Make it a point to stress to all involved to keep the proceedings of the investigations confidential. This will safeguard the integrity of the process. Any leaks will result in a loss of trust from other employees and discourage them from sharing information. Avoid sharing information with anyone who isn’t directly involved in the case.

12. Conclude the Investigation

Ultimately, you need to weigh in on the evidence and make a conclusion. Did the misconduct occur? Were the company’s policies violated? Follow the “preponderance of the evidence” path to wherever it leads. Never leave an investigation hanging.

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